The study of consumption within the social sciences has been recently extended to include consumption of and on the Internet. Mass adoption of the internet in the early to mid-1990s throughout western countries and beyond raises new questions about consumer culture, as the Internet facilitates the shift from mass to specialized, flexible, and dispersed forms of consumption.
Researchers show that the Internet affords new forms of commercial exploitation and social control, again extending and developing practices of production, distribution, and consumption offline to the online domain. This includes risks associated with the commercial or state invasion of privacy, the exploitation of personal data, opportunities to monitor, target or exploit consumers, and the reproduction of social inequality and exclusion online as offline.
Consumption online is integrated into daily life. While the material and symbolic conditions of consumption on the Internet may differ, they are not of a different order from offline consumption. Online the re -emergence of familiar cultural norms and social conventions is apparent, though for a minority of engaged consumers, radical or alternative forms of consumption, communication, community building and new digital literacies are also evident. Online too the signs are growing that the emancipatory potential of the Internet is subject to increasing attempts to privatize, commercialize, control, and profit from the activities of consumers online.